Interview: Lisa-Marie Dickinson chats to the people behind Leeds art space Colours May Vary

Situated opposite Leeds Bus Station in Munro House, Colours May Vary is an independent bookshop and event space, predominantly focusing on graphic art and design, typography, illustration, and product design. Lisa-Marie Dickinson quizzes them on curation, being independent, and their involvement in Leeds ever growing art scene.

TSOTA: The exhibitions you host at Colours May Vary are always extremely engaging, and are varied in terms of the mediums of work you showcase, ranging from Photography to Print to Interactive art- how do you curate your exhibition schedule, do artists and collectives approach you , do you approach them or is it a balance of the two?

We both look for artists and are approached by them. Sometimes we organise a group show and that is when we will approach artists. We sometimes get in touch with folk if we see their work on our travels just to let them know we love their work and to ask them to keep in touch. We are approached a lot but we try to make sure we always have something going on in the space that we would make the trip to see ourselves. If there is nothing that fits the bill, then we use the space to display the work of designers we stock in the shop. We don’t see the space as a ‘Gallery’ rather an extension of the shop. The space has to pay for itself so it isn’t an easy task to balance all these things.

TSOTA: You are an important part of the ever developing Leeds art scene- is it tough being an independent store and gallery space in a city dominated by well established Arts industry? Or do you feel it works to your advantage having full creative control over your space and what you chose to put in it?

It is very tough being an independent shop in Leeds but I don’t really know how this compares to other cities. I think the landscape has changed in most cities, properties are owned by London based Investment groups/banks and there isn’t the opportunity there once was to rent a small shop from a private landlord and grow organically. The rents and rates in Leeds City Centre are in general, prohibitive and make trying a new venture a huge gamble. There are far fewer independent retailers in Leeds that appeal to us, there was when I came here 20 years ago. What we do is also pretty niche so we don’t have the mass appeal that say beer and burgers do. That said we have an incredible customer base now.

I don’t think that we have ever considered the City to be ‘dominated’ by an arts industry.
As I mentioned, we don’t view the space as a ‘gallery’ and this gives us the flexibility to just not show work if we don’t feel it is right. We do feel sometimes galleries feel the pressure to have a full calendar of events at the detriment of quality and consistency. Obviously not all our shows will appeal to everyone but we try hard to make them something that will make you want to come back, see what’s on next. Our struggles come from relying on the income of the shop to maintain the space, we charge fees for the space when it is possible and of course can sometimes make commission from the work sold but it is hard to meet costs. It would be nice to be able to get support for the space in order to do more.

TSOTA: How do you approach the curation of each exhibition and utilise the beautiful space you have? Is it all done by yourselves or with active input from the Artists themselves?

It is usually a collaboration. Sometimes the artist has a set plan in mind, Alison who is showing currently had a very organised vision. We do discuss what might and might not work but in general we are very flexible.

TSOTA: Leeds / the North in general are really forging and re-establishing an identity as an important hub of Art, Design and Culture- with a creative scene quickly rivalling that of London. What do you hope to see happening in Leeds and the North in the next few years in terms of the creative field / industry?

It would be nice to see a better representation of the graphic arts. We have some incredible spaces up here and it would be nice to see Leeds as being a destination for contemporary art. We can’t fault The Hepworth or The YSP but It would be nice to have a solid, supported and thoroughly exciting but accessible calendar of contemporary art events in some big venues in Leeds itself.

TSOTA: How do you see yourself growing throughout 2016 and beyond? What can we look forward to?

We hope to maintain the shop and grow our own self produced product collections over the next couple of years. We are working on 2 projects at the moment which should hopefully evolve into regular events and we are looking forward to seeing the Quarry Hill side of the city evolve with the regeneration of Kirgate/Victoriagate etc.

Find out more about Colours May Vary on their website.

Filed under: Art & Photography